Jackie Savitz
1,274,421 views • 11:10

You may be wondering why a marine biologist from Oceana would come here today to talk to you about world hunger. I'm here today because saving the oceans is more than an ecological desire. It's more than a thing we're doing because we want to create jobs for fishermen or preserve fishermen's jobs. It's more than an economic pursuit. Saving the oceans can feed the world. Let me show you how.

As you know, there are already more than a billion hungry people on this planet. We're expecting that problem to get worse as world population grows to nine billion or 10 billion by midcentury, and we can expect to have greater pressure on our food resources. And this is a big concern, especially considering where we are now. Now we know that our arable land per capita is already on the decline in both developed and developing countries. We know that we're headed for climate change, which is going to change rainfall patterns, making some areas drier, as you can see in orange, and others wetter, in blue, causing droughts in our breadbaskets, in places like the Midwest and Central Europe, and floods in others. It's going to make it harder for the land to help us solve the hunger problem. And that's why the oceans need to be their most abundant, so that the oceans can provide us as much food as possible.

And that's something the oceans have been doing for us for a long time. As far back as we can go, we've seen an increase in the amount of food we've been able to harvest from our oceans. It just seemed like it was continuing to increase, until about 1980, when we started to see a decline. You've heard of peak oil. Maybe this is peak fish. I hope not. I'm going to come back to that. But you can see about an 18-percent decline in the amount of fish we've gotten in our world catch since 1980. And this is a big problem. It's continuing. This red line is continuing to go down.

But we know how to turn it around, and that's what I'm going to talk about today. We know how to turn that curve back upwards. This doesn't have to be peak fish. If we do a few simple things in targeted places, we can bring our fisheries back and use them to feed people.

First we want to know where the fish are, so let's look where the fish are. It turns out the fish, conveniently, are located for the most part in our coastal areas of the countries, in coastal zones, and these are areas that national jurisdictions have control over, and they can manage their fisheries in these coastal areas. Coastal countries tend to have jurisdictions that go out about 200 nautical miles, in areas that are called exclusive economic zones, and this is a good thing that they can control their fisheries in these areas, because the high seas, which are the darker areas on this map, the high seas, it's a lot harder to control things, because it has to be done internationally. You get into international agreements, and if any of you are tracking the climate change agreement, you know this can be a very slow, frustrating, tedious process. And so controlling things nationally is a great thing to be able to do.

How many fish are actually in these coastal areas compared to the high seas? Well, you can see here about seven times as many fish in the coastal areas than there are in the high seas, so this is a perfect place for us to be focusing, because we can actually get a lot done. We can restore a lot of our fisheries if we focus in these coastal areas.

But how many of these countries do we have to work in? There's something like 80 coastal countries. Do we have to fix fisheries management in all of those countries? So we asked ourselves, how many countries do we need to focus on, keeping in mind that the European Union conveniently manages its fisheries through a common fisheries policy? So if we got good fisheries management in the European Union and, say, nine other countries, how much of our fisheries would we be covering? Turns out, European Union plus nine countries covers about two thirds of the world's fish catch. If we took it up to 24 countries plus the European Union, we would up to 90 percent, almost all of the world's fish catch. So we think we can work in a limited number of places to make the fisheries come back. But what do we have to do in these places? Well, based on our work in the United States and elsewhere, we know that there are three key things we have to do to bring fisheries back, and they are: We need to set quotas or limits on how much we take; we need to reduce bycatch, which is the accidental catching and killing of fish that we're not targeting, and it's very wasteful; and three, we need to protect habitats, the nursery areas, the spawning areas that these fish need to grow and reproduce successfully so that they can rebuild their populations. If we do those three things, we know the fisheries will come back.

How do we know? We know because we've seen it happening in a lot of different places. This is a slide that shows the herring population in Norway that was crashing since the 1950s. It was coming down, and when Norway set limits, or quotas, on its fishery, what happens? The fishery comes back. This is another example, also happens to be from Norway, of the Norwegian Arctic cod. Same deal. The fishery is crashing. They set limits on discards. Discards are these fish they weren't targeting and they get thrown overboard wastefully. When they set the discard limit, the fishery came back. And it's not just in Norway. We've seen this happening in countries all around the world, time and time again. When these countries step in and they put in sustainable fisheries management policies, the fisheries, which are always crashing, it seems, are starting to come back. So there's a lot of promise here.

What does this mean for the world fish catch? This means that if we take that fishery catch that's on the decline and we could turn it upwards, we could increase it up to 100 million metric tons per year. So we didn't have peak fish yet. We still have an opportunity to not only bring the fish back but to actually get more fish that can feed more people than we currently are now. How many more? Right about now, we can feed about 450 million people a fish meal a day based on the current world fish catch, which, of course, you know is going down, so that number will go down over time if we don't fix it, but if we put fishery management practices like the ones I've described in place in 10 to 25 countries, we could bring that number up and feed as many as 700 million people a year a healthy fish meal.

We should obviously do this just because it's a good thing to deal with the hunger problem, but it's also cost-effective. It turns out fish is the most cost-effective protein on the planet. If you look at how much fish protein you get per dollar invested compared to all of the other animal proteins, obviously, fish is a good business decision. It also doesn't need a lot of land, something that's in short supply, compared to other protein sources. And it doesn't need a lot of fresh water. It uses a lot less fresh water than, for example, cattle, where you have to irrigate a field so that you can grow the food to graze the cattle. It also has a very low carbon footprint. It has a little bit of a carbon footprint because we do have to get out and catch the fish. It takes a little bit of fuel, but as you know, agriculture can have a carbon footprint, and fish has a much smaller one, so it's less polluting. It's already a big part of our diet, but it can be a bigger part of our diet, which is a good thing, because we know that it's healthy for us. It can reduce our risks of cancer, heart disease and obesity. In fact, our CEO Andy Sharpless, who is the originator of this concept, actually, he likes to say fish is the perfect protein. Andy also talks about the fact that our ocean conservation movement really grew out of the land conservation movement, and in land conservation, we have this problem where biodiversity is at war with food production. You have to cut down the biodiverse forest if you want to get the field to grow the corn to feed people with, and so there's a constant push-pull there. There's a constant tough decision that has to be made between two very important things: maintaining biodiversity and feeding people. But in the oceans, we don't have that war. In the oceans, biodiversity is not at war with abundance. In fact, they're aligned. When we do things that produce biodiversity, we actually get more abundance, and that's important so that we can feed people.

Now, there's a catch.

Didn't anyone get that? (Laughter)

Illegal fishing. Illegal fishing undermines the type of sustainable fisheries management I'm talking about. It can be when you catch fish using gears that have been prohibited, when you fish in places where you're not supposed to fish, you catch fish that are the wrong size or the wrong species. Illegal fishing cheats the consumer and it also cheats honest fishermen, and it needs to stop. The way illegal fish get into our market is through seafood fraud. You might have heard about this. It's when fish are labeled as something they're not. Think about the last time you had fish. What were you eating? Are you sure that's what it was? Because we tested 1,300 different fish samples and about a third of them were not what they were labeled to be. Snappers, nine out of 10 snappers were not snapper. Fifty-nine percent of the tuna we tested was mislabeled. And red snapper, we tested 120 samples, and only seven of them were really red snapper, so good luck finding a red snapper.

Seafood has a really complex supply chain, and at every step in this supply chain, there's an opportunity for seafood fraud, unless we have traceability. Traceability is a way where the seafood industry can track the seafood from the boat to the plate to make sure that the consumer can then find out where their seafood came from.

This is a really important thing. It's being done by some in the industry, but not enough, so we're pushing a law in Congress called the SAFE Seafood Act, and I'm very excited today to announce the release of a chef's petition, where 450 chefs have signed a petition calling on Congress to support the SAFE Seafood Act. It has a lot of celebrity chefs you may know — Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Barton Seaver and others — and they've signed it because they believe that people have a right to know about what they're eating.


Fishermen like it too, so there's a good chance we can get the kind of support we need to get this bill through, and it comes at a critical time, because this is the way we stop seafood fraud, this is the way we curb illegal fishing, and this is the way we make sure that quotas, habitat protection, and bycatch reductions can do the jobs they can do.

We know that we can manage our fisheries sustainably. We know that we can produce healthy meals for hundreds of millions of people that don't use the land, that don't use much water, have a low carbon footprint, and are cost-effective. We know that saving the oceans can feed the world, and we need to start now.


Thank you. (Applause)